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Friday, September 28, 2007

Elementary, My Dear Reader


Someone on one of the message boards I frequent brought up the topic of first grade. That got me thinking about the past.

I went to elementary school at School 4 in Dunkirk, NY. All of the elementary schools were numbered (there might have been up to six at one time - though I don't think all of 1 through 6 were still open at the time I went in the 70's).

I don't recall my first grade teacher's name - I'd need to check old class pictures that my mom has for that. I do remember I had Mrs. Johnson for 2nd (she was actually a third or fourth cousin of mine who had recently gotten married), Miss Oliver for 3rd, Mrs. Notte for 4th and Mr. Reardon for 5th.

I do, however, vividly recall the layout of the school, right down to the color on the floors (a black/white/gray mosaic kind of tile) and walls (beige). I can close my eyes and pretty much walk a virtual tour of the place in my mind. From the front entrance off of Central Avenue you turned left. To your right was the auditorium where Mrs. Mohney taught us music (and where I was one of five dancing soldiers at Valley Forge for the 5th grade's musical production of "George Washington"). If you went straight up the short steps you passed the principal and nurse's offices. Continue straight on the first floor and there were the classrooms for grades K through 2. Off to the right was the short hallway to the gym/cafeteria as well as the janitor's rooms. There were large stairwells on each end of the first floor that went upstairs to the second floor where grades 3 through 5 were taught. Also on the second floor on the end near the auditorium was the library which had a larger room and then a smaller room. Each grade had two classrooms each - except kindergarten. That was one room and kids only went a half day for kindergarten (thus creating the two classes for each grade thereafter).

I have a number of vivid memories from School 4.

In 4th and 5th grade, there was four of us who were considered 'advanced readers'. That basically meant that Kirsten, Joey, John and myself were given an independent study course separate from the rest of our class for reading. We read books and did special quizes and assignments to test our comprehension. Funny thing was - there wasn't a classroom to put us in, so we often met in the small room in the side of the library or, on days when that room was booked for films or something, on the landing up the second floor stairwell(!).

Prior to 5th grade, I went to my grandparents' house on the next street over for lunch (yes, I was allowed to leave school, walk to their house, eat and walk back for the lunch period - other kids who lived nearby had that option as well). I only stopped doing that the year my grandfather passed away; I'm guessing it was hard for my grandmother to have me over during that initial grieving period so I just started eating at school and kept it up for that last year. My first lunchbox was yellow, shaped like Snoopy's doghouse. The thermos inside had all the Peanuts characters on it.

Besides the presidential musical in 1976, our 5th grade class also planted a garden of flowers in front of the school laid out like an American flag (red, white and blue); I honestly don't know if they survived the following year but they looked good for a few weeks after we planted them. Also, the other 5th grade teacher was Mr. Ford, and I recall there were political discussions about Ford/Reagan at the time so we tied those events in with our two classes in a friendly competitive way.

Every school year ended with Spring Frolic which was held in the huge parking lot on the side and back of the school. It was a day of fun, games, group songs and a cook-out. When we "graduated" from 5th grade, each of us was given a green dictionary with our name inscribed in gold on the front cover by the Parents' Club. I still have the book to this day - and it includes well wishes and signatures from many of my friends and teachers.

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